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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Common Council Meets about Investigation

Mayor Roefaro's secret investigation that has attracted so much attention lately may not be so secret after all. During the common council caucus on Monday (4/26) Bill Morehouse, common council president, opted to go to executive session so sensitive details about the investigation would not be leaked.
Without the Mayor in attendance (or J.K. Hage III) one has to wonder how any questions were going to be answered. And, if the council is unaware of the nature of the investigation then why call the Executive Session? These questions and many more were raised by two of the six reporters in attendance.
"It seems everytime you want to avoid the public you use these broad interpretations of the law" said one, reffering to judge Garramone's interpretation of executive session guidelines. "I want this on the record that I object to the Executive Session" said another.
Garramone countered "these guidelines are's in the law".
A prolonged debate between the local press and Garramone ensued leaving neither side satisfied. Bill Morehouse took it as a sign to adjourn and made his first unsuccessful attempt. But not before letting each person know where he stood on the issue. "The people were not served today" he said.
There were a lot of people on the council who wanted answers; among them, Lorraine Arcuri. She openly questioned Ed Bucciero's blind support when he gave a yes vote during the Board of Estimations meeting. She wondered aloud how much can be spent. "Does he (J.K.HageIII) have a blank check?"
Zecca cleared the air with his extensive knowledge of budget protocol. "There is a $15,000 cap on spending" he said, adding, anything additional would have to be re-approved.
The caucus was briefly interrupted again when a reporter who just received breaking news asked the Council about Gro West and their possible involvement in the probe. no one on the council was aware of any connections with Gro-West. But one need not look to far to see the connections.
It is conceivable that Gro West, a non-profit based on State St. in West Utica is involved. The group has been dealing with the city for over a decade. They have been involved with many revitalization projects and have figured prominently in the effort to turn around urban blight.
Today (4/26) the O-D reported a source within city government admitting as much but no one wants to talk about who in the city may be affected by the probe.
Some early frontrunners are former czar of economic development Bob Sullivan.
Why Bob?
His sister, Linda Sullivan-Fatata, is the missing link. We all need to ask ourselves why she is not handling the internal probe. After all, she is corporation council for the city of Utica.
Perhaps there is a conflict of interest.
Michael Cerminaro is another frontrunner. His many gaffes as comptroller could have potentially cost us millions. The most recent are unnerving because he seemed totally unaware of the mistakes until the mayor enlightened him.
The plot thickens.

check for more

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not So Secret Investigation Reeks

There are lot of things in Utica that, to a casual observer, may seem strange. Boy Brown, Crazy Richard (RIP), The Lady with the Doll and Rainbow Young are usual suspects. Now enter politics into the equation and it gets downright weird.
Just like Chicago, another machine politics town, Utica has a unique balance of power that shifts from time to time, causing multiple ripples throughout the community. Sometimes those ripples resonate far beyond Utica. Other times no one feels a thing but something major still happened. Think plate tectonics. In California we call it Earthquake.
Such is the mystery of Utica politics and the uncertainty sorrounding the ‘Not So Secret’ investigation at City Hall. There are rumblings everywhere. Speculation, rumor and all manner of misinformation.
What stinks here is the fact that tax payer money (out of a budget stretched thin) is being used to conduct an internal probe of a nature that is only known to the Mayor and the Lawyer that is doing the billing.
$150.00 per hour is nothing to sneeze at. Especially when the scope and breadth of the investigation is unknown. Is there a cap on spending?
I’ll go out on a limb and answer that myself: yes. It would be absurd to think the acquired council could run up an unlimited bill. Right?
The city Comptroller, Michael Cerminaro, bravely vowed not to pay for this -’Not So secret ‘- investigation until he is brought up to speed. After all, it is possible his opinion could matter. But we need to be aware of the fact that Cerminaro was not in attendance during the vote for approval at the Board of Estimations meeting. This particular vote, he said , was not on the agenda for the meeting, which he also claimed he looked at.
Bold statement, considering anyone at City Hall is a possible target of the probe. History has taught us cynical citizens: if you dig in any department of the city, any city, you will more than likely find something out of whack, a mistake. Not just Utica but America as a whole, the world even.

So what gives?
Is this a witchhunt?

Subterfuge to keep critics on their heels?

It is possible that in some strange way we are transforming into an era of integrity. The slow march towards accountability is one we have been on for a long time. Transparency in government is at the foundation. There is not much of that in this case.
To his credit, the Mayor has not shied away from any of his controversial decisions. High on the growing complaint list, were the multiple appointments and raises he liberally doled out to those closest to him. And more recently: his handling of public safety. He has not wavered in the face of his critics. Why should he? Being elected means you have power; but the culture of nepotism and ‘the good old boy’ network is starting to retard our growth and hasten our decline.This investigation simply adds more salt to a palpably lower morale around City Hall.

And couldn’t it be possible the Mayor is using this as some sort of political leverage at the taxpayers expense?

In a perfect world, with a robust economy, no one cares about City Hall. No one questions who the Mayor hires or gives raises to. In a perfect world the Mayor does not have to take a full page ad to tell his side of the story in a fair manner, in his words.
We all need to grow up.

Maybe he (The Mayor) has a plan B?

Perhaps the newly drafted Masterplan, which will be revealed on 4/22 at the Utica Library, holds the keys to success that will change the odor sorrounding City Hall to an aroma. Maybe Bill Morehouse, Common Council President, who has planned a future meeting-or Executive Session- with the Mayor, will inform the public. No date has been set. We are all at the edge of our seats.
Until then we collectively hold our noses

see my thoroughly self-edited version of this article at

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gregory Johnson Announces his run for 116th Assembly

On Thursday April 15, 2010 the politically quiet 116th New York State Assembly district just got interesting with the announcement of a Republican challenge to the firmly entrenched Democrat incumbent, Ro-Ann Destito, who has held the office for 20 years.
Gregory Johnson, a first year Councilman in Marcy, made his announcement in the midst of a turbulent political climate that has ignited a lot of different grassroot movements in the Mohawk Valley and abroad.
With historic Ft. Stanwix in the background, serving as the perfect patriotic prop, Johnson made his announcement in front of 1,500 supporters. With a blustery wind beating at his back he outlined a list of issues that have angered many people in the 116th to a chorus of cheers and whistles. He proudly stated his affiliation with the Tea Party and his frustration with the status quo.
Johnson says he will bring a 'sky is the limit' approach to this campaign. The retired airline pilot graduated from Whitesboro High in 1969 (same year as good friend, 24th congressional candidate Richard Hanna). He started his career in the airline industry with Mohawk Airlines in 1970. By 1979 he was a pilot with empire Airlines and would eventually retire with US Airways as a Captain.
"The moment I got the job (Mohawk Airlines ticket counter) the goal was always to be a pilot."
Johnson aimed high then and he is aiming high now.
Johnson also knows his connection to any type of reformist or populist movements will attract all kinds of rhetoric. "There are two words I never want to be associated with" he said, holding up his index finger. "Those words are: fight and change" adding clarity, he continued. "I would rather use: work(with) and overhaul"
It is set, there will be a Republican challenge for the 116th Assembly. It will help shape the future political landscape that is surely going to go through some changes.
"I am not running against Ro-Ann Destito" Johnson said "I am running for the 116th"
At press time Ro-Ann Destitio has not announced a decision to run or not.

A Hearty Welcome to New England's Chris King

Chris king is truly a Brotha from anotha Mutha. He has exposed a number of cover-ups and continues to shed light in some of the darker corners of New England Politics.
I hope the Readers of Dancys's Corner are inspired and do your part to keep integrity and transparency in the forefront of local and National politics.

No matter where you are.
Get involved, go to the occasional City Council meeting.
These elected officials work for you.

check Chris out at and tap in.

This is an excerpt from Chris's latest entry:

KingCast to Senator Letourneau on SB 154 being properly tabled: "I told you so.... a year ago!"

Then I told Senator D'Alessandro and the Public Works Committee the
same thing. At the risk of being redundant (said redundancy being occasioned by your hegemonic attempts to shove this ill-founded legislation down the throats of North Country residents) maybe you get the message now.

I think they get the message Chris.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Local Gardens Elevate Community

The word Trailblazer and Utica are rarely mentioned in the same sentence. But when it comes to civic (city sponsored) Community Gardens we can proudly claim Trailblazer status.

Utica is the first city of its size in Central New York to donate land and resources toward the building and maintenance of Community Gardens that have successfully provided food and nutritional education to the poor.

"It is great so far, a lot of hard work, but we need more funding to take this to the next level" shared Cassandra Harris Lockwood, CEO of For The Good Inc. and one of the forces behind the original community garden on Linwood Pl..

"We started out with an idea and a donation from a philanthropist (Richard Pertz)...that got us going" she explained.

With a small donation to work with, all they needed was land. The newly elected Mayor of Utica, David Roefaro, came to the rescue and donated land (vacant lots) and the first garden was started.
Even in this climate of fiscal conservatism and huge cuts to City services Utica saw the value of a small investment in this program.

"The results were positive from the outset".

"We have developed a positive relationship with a lot of community partners" Lockwood was referring to the many other non-profits and Colleges that have gotten involved with the gardens since they started three years ago.

The number of gardens has increased with the participation in the community. With the cooperation of the City of Utica, For The Good has added two more locations : Jay St and Noyes.
"Jay St was a gift from Wal-Mart...they provided the wood and expertise to get it built" Harris-Lockwood said. "But we need this type of commitment from the philanthropists"she said highlighting the irony of a non grassroots (some might say anti-Mom & Pop) Organization like Wal-Mart willing to offer support.

She listed the many groups that have offered money or 'in-kind' support.
"Proctor High School Youth Costruction Initiative helped build raised beds, The Community Foundation provided resources to build a shed, Cornell Co-operative Extension provides seeds, RCIL does a healthy cooking and nutrition class and The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees provides people...there are many more".
The Linwood Garden houses 36 raised beds that keep the roots of the vegetables away from potentially dangerous elements in the soil. The Jay St Garden is an exact replica of Linwood that was built last year. Noyes will be the third installed in consecutive years. There is also an heirloom garden donated by Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce President Frank Elias on Genesee St. next door to Utica Roasting Company.

"Noyes will house 30 beds this year but we will have room for up to 80" Harris-Lockwood said. What will be missing is money. Because For The Good Inc is the main facilitator of the gardens; the technical expertise such as the layout, number of raised beds, crop rotation and simple daily maintenance has been handled solely by Harris Lockwood and volunteers of For The Good Inc.

"We are getting to a point where the responsibility (of The garden's maintenance) is beyond what we are willing to ask someone to do (for free)" Harris-Lockwood admitted. "We have applied for multiple grants at a much higher level".

Harris-Lockwood was very clear about what is needed. "Added funds will simply keep the Gardens operating ...we are in danger (financially)...we need help".

Harris Lockwood will be taking her message to SUNY Morrisville on Earth Day (April 22). Her message will be heard by the appropriate audience- College Students. The idea is catching on. Harris Lockwood has also offered her model to the people of Haiti, through Senator Kristin Gillibrand, to apply these methods in their rebuilding efforts.
In many bad ways, Utica is leading the pack in Central New York. But no one else is doing this. For once we are in first place for doing something for the good.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What is going on Uptown?

Uptown Utica. Two words, when put in the proper order, can inspire thoughts of heady conversation, good food, good music, strong coffee and gourmet beer on tap. Those are all good things; but until now, those thoughts were reserved for the well informed minority of Uticans who regularly hang there. As spring and summer quickly advance the numbers of well informed regulars continues to grow.
Only an expert demographer could accurately gauge the group most inclined to visit or regularly hang out in Uptown. But to the casual observer, and member of a fringe group of struggling artists that hang out anywhere, I can attest to the wide range of Uticans that are prone pull up a chair at the cafe or get a table at one of the two restaurants that call Uptown home.
"We all work together" shared Lauren Helmer General Manager of The Hadley-Balkan (2006-2008 Genesee St.). She was referring to the many creative promotional specials like 'Dinner and a Movie' that they run with their neighbor, The Uptown Theatre. The spirit of cooperation between the different businesses extend beyond the Uptown Theatre; it is truly a business community.
Mini-Coopers, Saabs, BMW's - hip-cars - compete for the limited parking with Ford Tempos old Hondas and bicycles.
The drivers? They work, buy art, eat out, drink gourmet beer and like movies. They tend to support the efforts of local farmers and try to do their part to combat climate change by attending lectures, riding bikes and driving the occasional hybrid.
Because of it's unique atmosphere, Uptown Utica, a small cluster of businesses that intersect at Emerson and Genesee St. is establishing itself as one the hippest places to hangout in The Mohawk Valley.
But you need to ask yourself: Am I cool enough?
If you are into NASCAR, prefer lots o' Ketchup with your steak and have no appreciation for art or conversations about changing the world; Uptown probably is not for you.
It is a place where display menus are hand painted and servers have pierced eyebrows. A place where college students drink (coffee) and do their homework on laptops.
Uptown is a place where you can attend shamanic drum circles twice a month (The Other Side), listen to local poets plan a show, students debate a lecture or just do the crossword (Cafe Domenico).
Uptown is a place where you can hear an Irish Band, Mandolin players and Utica's own Rusty Doves all in one week.
Uptown is the place that recently played host to international Jazz star Jane Monheit who performed for an intimate crowd (75) at The Other Side (2011 Genesee St.), a non-profit cultural universe of it's own that adds a considerable sum of integrity to Uptown's growing popularity and cultural importance.
Uptown has been historically anchored by popular shops like Uptown Automotive- a thirty year success story owned byJim Amado-that revolves around Model Cars and rare Hotwheels. And The Historic Uptown Theatre.
Uptown has always been pedestrian friendly and, on good weather days, it reaches it's potential as a sundrenched center of all kinds of activity. It could be described as a less crowded, quiet alternative to the Spring Break atmosphere of beer soaked Varick St.
No, there are no tatoo shops, no pizza joints ( although there used to be) and no Police on stand by for beer brawls. It is a mature, ecclectic atmosphere. The perfect place to bring visiting friends when you want to make a good impression.
Simply put, it is a model Renaissance District. Previously driven by a now defunt dry cleaner, a number of unsuccessful pizza joints and The newly rescuscitated Uptown Theatre. It used to be a part of town most of us just drove through on our way to doing whatever it is we do. Now we slow down, take a look. And some of us even park, get out and go see what's going on Uptown.

Uptown Plaza (2007 Genesee St.)
Listed first because it lies right at the edge of the action in Uptown. Uptown Plaza lies on the Northeast side of Emerson Ave and Genesee St. it is home to about seven suites each housing a different business. Uptown's prosperity has never been in these businesses hands. There are specialty shops that include the Old Training Gym for MMA fighter Matt Hamill (that appears empty), a CPA and a couple of empty suites begging for a creative entreprenuer to take advantage of the spike in foot traffic. The most successful businesses in the Plaza, Uptown Automotive,("A Hobby Shop For car Nuts") and Mohawk Valley Music Supply have been operating before the current spike in interest.

Cafe Domenico (2009 Genesee St.)
The first business to provide a solid social foundation to the area is Cafe Domenico. Entering it's eighth year (7/22), Domenico's has been growing in popularity since it's opening in 2002. It's importance is not overlooked.
"Domenico's is an area of critical mass where a lot of different people can share ideas" said Adam Spiridilozzi a local artist, student, and a regular member of the Domenico's community.
Domenicos is also one of the businesses that everyone has been to. It is moderately to low priced and there is a good chance you won't overstay your welcome by nursing a twenty minute coffee waiting for late friends.

The Other Side (2011 Genesee St)
The only non-profit on the block has been extremely active in it's first year. Still in it's infancy (non-profit years) this collection of intellectuals, artists and local activists has helped transform more than the culture of Uptown.
They provide a LGBT teen meeting space (rare by any standard), shamanic drum circles (twice a month), a series on climate change, Talkin Bout Jazz musical series (debuted with Jane Monheit) and of course The very successful Imagining America series of free lectures sponsored in part,by Hamilton College.
The Imagining America Lecture series alone is worth the price of admission, the fact that it is free will elicit feelings of guilt for anyone in attendance that doesn't give a donation. Where else in Utica can you go and learn about foreign service (espionage) from an expert? Where to get farm fresh local eggs or homemade rootbeer? Why our economy was in danger of collapse?
They also host poetry readings, live Improv and are open to just about anything that can help elevate the community conversation. The Other Side is aptly named.

The Balkan-Hadley Restaurant Bar (2006-2008 Genesee St.)

The Balkan-Hadley Restaurant Bar 315-507-4264

The Balkan-Hadley Restaurant Bar is really two restaraunts in one.
The Balkan, which is open year round for lunch and dinner, is the lower priced more accessible option for the Uptown diner. it has its own menu and all lunches come with soup salads and a basket of bread. They have multiple sandwich options as well; feel free to order anything from grilled to deli style. There are ten dinner options that all come with rice or potato and vegetables. To Gotham City News, a low budget operation, the best thing about the Balkan is price, everything, including Steak Au Poivre is well under twenty bucks.
The Hadley could be described as the upscale version of The Balkan. Compared with the other businesses in the area they are priced above the market. It has not hurt them, they have a lower priced option right next door under the same roof. Lobster, Rack of Lamb, Grilled Veal Chop and , of course Delmonico Steak compete for popularity amongst the high rollers.
Remember to ask about dinner and a movie.

Uptown Theatre (2012 Genesee St.)
The Uptown-315-797-0020
The Theatre has been given a new lease on life. It is home to video game tournaments live action performances and, of course, movies. Remember to ask them about dinner and a movie.

The Green Onion (2014 Genesee St)
The Green Onion-202-276-1049
The newest addition to The Uptown scene is The Green Onion. On October 22nd they will celebrate their first year. The intimate little Barspace next door to Uptown theate is a departure from the usual Utica drinking experience all the way down to it's real Cork dartboard, well heeled bartenders and really good microbrews.

See you Uptown.